Q & A
Joseph "Jojo" Resnik
Q: Do you have a memorable childhood experience?
Growing up Catholic! Baptism by fire!
My fourth-grade teacher at St. James Elementary was Sister Severina. I knew exactly what I was going to be in for. Everyone knew the horror stories. Like how Emily Stanic got hauled out to the cloak room to get her left hand whacked with a book. Why? Because she’d used it instead of her right hand. Or like how Eddie Burchill had to spend the entire class standing at the back of the room for being tardy. That was the day when all the girls brought their dolls to school. So when I finally arrived ten minutes late, there was Jen Spreckel’s doll sitting in my seat.
I never understood the nuns. They seemed not-quite human. Their black-and-white clothes, everything covered up but their face and hands That smell of antiseptic cleanliness they all had. That doggedness you see in animal trainers. Nothing got them going like “talking in class.” Whenever I heard the rustling of robes and the clacking of rosary beads coming up the aisle, I knew I was going to get pulled up out of my seat by my ear. I was her favorite. She tried different punishments to tame my misbehavior. Like making me sit in the wastebasket. Or making me crawl into the well of her desk and sit there all scrunched up while her old-fashioned black shoes kept giving me secret little kicks.
Once, Sister Severina warned the class that the next person to speak out of turn would have their tongues removed with a bottle of tongue-removing liquid called Andronicus. She showed how it made a few words written in ink disappear from a piece of paper. I said to Jimmy Buongiorno, who sat in front of me, “We should get that bottle and put it on her tongue.”
Jimmy turned to look at me and caught sight of my impression of a tongueless Sister Severina trying to speak. Jimmy couldn’t contain his laugh and snorted through his nose. Thick mucus exploded onto his desk. Kathy Reilly, sitting in the seat beside him, yelped with disgust. Sister zapped me with her death stare. “Joseph, up to the front of the class!” I was ordered to stick out my tongue while she went on and on about how badly she felt that she had to do this. I knew she was bluffing. Even a nun couldn’t make a kid’s tongue disappear. I wasn’t in the least surprised when she had a change of heart, saying she was doing what Jesus would have wanted—being merciful.
The Principal, Sister Aloysius, wasn’t so merciful. “You again!” she said as I was led into her office. “Let’s see if the medicine works this time.” Out came the steel ruler. I gave her my left hand. Six raps on the knuckles. It hurt, but I’d made it a point not to cry. The medicine never worked.